Congress poised to smite DHS' technology programs

Congress is moving to clip the wings of the Homeland Security Department's CIO and punish the department for ignoring demands from lawmakers for information.

In an emergency supplemental appropriations bill the House likely will pass today, and in a draft spending plan approved by a House subcommittee earlier this week, congressional leaders lambasted DHS for flouting the will of Congress and threatened to cut or withhold hundreds of millions of dollars until the department shaped up.

The conference report on the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, HR 1286, is scheduled for a floor vote today and likely will pass. The Senate, which is in recess this week, likely will approve the bill next week.

The $82 billion emergency supplemental appropriation for fiscal 2005 is mainly intended to pay for continuing military operations overseas, as well as tsunami relief.

But lawmakers took advantage of the fact that the bill is "must-pass" legislation to add several provisions affecting DHS IT.

For example, the bill's authors included report language reflecting the fact that Congress is "displeased" with DHS' use of its Working Capital Fund to pay for IT projects that Congress has not approved. "The department has used the WCF for projects and activities about which Congress has not been informed or for which Congress has not provided appropriations," according to the report.

The conferees stated that DHS has paid for the Homeland Secure Digital Network, one of the department's key IT backbones, with WCF money. It ordered DHS to stop using the fund to pay for the network until the proper appropriations committees approve an official reprogramming request, and to submit an analysis of whether and why HSDN is better than alternative technologies.

The emergency supplemental legislation withholds $5 million of funds for the salaries and expenses of the department's CIO office "until the CIO submits an expenditure plan for information technology projects funded by the CIO or funded through the use of reimbursable agreements [with other agencies]."

Lawmakers scolded DHS for failing to ask Congress for permission to reprogram funds, accusing the department of "ignorance of budgetary rules, an arrogance in program implementation and a serious attempt by [department officials] to ignore statutory intent." They ordered the CIO to submit a list of every IT project under way or planned for 2005; a complete list of all legacy systems operating as of March 1, 2003; and plans for operating or terminating the systems. The conferees demanded an IT expenditure plan from the CIO.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security yesterday took an even harsher approach in its markup of the department's 2006 appropriations bill. The panel cut more than $485 million from the administration's request "because we did not get the information we needed to make informed decisions about programs and operations," according to chairman Hal Rogers. The bill does not have a number because it has not been introduced yet.

The Kentucky Republican said the draft spending plan included an aggressive oversight strategy. "The department has been a reluctant partner and has ignored requests for information and direction to move expeditiously in the implementation of important national policies and goals," he said.

The subcommittee's punishment proposals included:

  • A $5 million cut for the Information Assurance and Infrastructure Protection Directorate until it submits a five-year plan for the operations and costs of the Homeland Security Operations Center

  • A $5 million cut in IAIP for failing to report on Information Sharing and Analysis Centers

  • Withholding of $70 million until Customs and Border Protection reports on the Container Security Initiative

  • Withholding $2 million until CBP reports on an immigration advisory program
    Withholding $100,000 daily from the Transportation Security Administration's headquarters budget and $10 million from the department secretary's office until TSA triples cargo screening

  • Withholding an additional $20 million from the secretary's office until Congress receives required reports

  • A $4 million cut for TSA for "general lack of responsiveness"

  • A $2 million cut at the Federal Emergency Management Agency for poor responsiveness

The panel did add $10 million to the budget for the Science and Technology Directorate to help develop and deploy technology.

The emergency supplemental appropriations bill also includes the Real ID Act. The bill, which was intended to tighten the requirements for driver's licenses and crack down on various forms of document fraud, stalled last year's intelligence reform law until lawmakers removed it with the promise of including it in later, must-pass legislation. The act, which has attracted strong opposition from civil-rights and privacy activists, calls for creation of databases of driver's license information and specifies minimum requirements for granting identification documents.

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